, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 173-202
Date: 02 Feb 2010

Marx, formal subsumption and the law

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Recent work rethinking the place of the law in Marxian analysis of capitalist society provides us with a foundation for a renewed look at the labor process. Drawing on this literature, which emphasizes the materiality of institutions through which labor is exploited, and returning to Marx’s discussion of formal subsumption in Capital, I argue that the law was central for subordinating labor. I then present three case studies from industries in Victorian England to demonstrate the diverse ways in which law was implicated in formal subsumption. The case studies focus on the ways in which capitalists used master and servant law, the key law governing the workplace, to subordinate labor. I conclude by considering how these cases provoke us to consider the materiality of the law in labor relations more broadly, and such questions might be pursued in developing capitalist economies such as China.